David Bowie

Yesterday I said that instead of a review today I would write a post about David Bowie. This then left me with the same problem as countless other people had yesterday: what on earth can you possibly say? He’s been around my entire life – I was born the week Aladdin Sane came out. I wasn’t old enough to really get the impact that he made on music from 1972-1978, but certainly in the 1980s I was listening to him, even though until college I was never really obsessed with music. You’d hear his singles on the radio – Ashes to Ashes, Let’s Dance, Modern Love – WELI, my local AM radio station, would play Modern Love incessantly, possibly due to its ‘retro’ nature.


When I got to college, I began to obsess about music to a ridiculous degree, and of course that meant Bowie as well. My first mixtape that I ever made had a Bowie song on it – Suffragette City, still one of my top 5 Bowie songs. Like many, I gravitated more towards the glam Bowie – I still do, and my first choice of albums to listen to yesterday were Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust. But I knew that the musicians that I liked, those whose CDs I bought, and whose interviews I read in the NME, they all talked about a different period that I had trouble getting into – not quite as immediately rewarding, but with greater depth. This would, of course, be the Berlin Trilogy, which was Bowie’s equivalent of The Velvet Underground and Nico, i.e. everyone who listened to the albums formed a band. Except they sold a lot more than TVUAN ever did.

Bowie also touched some of my other musical obsessions. First of all it was nice to have a singer who was in my vocal range – Under Pressure was doable if I didn’t have to sing Freddie’s part! J.G. Thirlwell posted a lovely tribute to Bowie yesterday, talking about how his music influenced his work as Foetus (and likely his current instrumental scoring for The Venture Brothers). Frank Zappa disliked Bowie – stealing Frank’s lead guitar player mid-tour certainly didn’t help – but used Bowie’s then stunning music video iconography in one of his best 80s satirical songs, Be In My Video. There were punk rockers who cited Bowie as an influence, less for the musical style and more for the attitude and exaggeration. And of course as a Doctor Who fan I had to like Bowie – it was a well-known fact that Bowie was secretly a Time Lord, and would never die but merely regenerate.

But sadly that hasn’t happened, and we once again are left with little to say except perhaps “fuck cancer”. I feel bad that I never listened to more of his later period – when I was in college, finally listening to his early 70s period, Black Tie White Noise and Tin Machine II were coming out to critical shrugs. It seemed for a time that every new Bowie album was the comeback… then the next one would be the new comeback, and you’d realized the critics had written off the prior. But that’s music criticism for you, and by the time those reviews came out he’d likely moved on to something else anyway. In the end, I suppose all I’m left with is what everyone else has been saying. David Bowie’s music spoke to outsiders, kooks, weirdos, and those who felt distanced from everyone else. I hope that each new generation who feels the same way can find inspiration and solace in his work, and use it to create their own ethereal, otherworldly beauty. Even if they may find it hard to sing “let all the children boogie” with a straight face.

NYCC 2015, Day 4

By the final day of NYCC, I was pretty wiped, so I decided after a quick tour of the show floor to say hi to people I would find a panel or two, sit, and then take off. I wanted to see the Wabbit! panel at 12:15, so walked into the one before it, and ended up being one of the last folks at Scholastic’s Goosebumps/Baby-Sitter’s Club joint panel. Those series are a bit young for me, but it was nice to see the crowd’s enthusiasm at seeing legends of their childhood on stage.

The panel consisted of R.L. Stine, who was highly amusing throughout; Dave Romans, who does some Goosebumps graphic novels; Ann M. Martin, the author of The Baby-Sitter’s Club; and Raina Telgemeier, who’s doing a graphic novel of that. The authors agreed that one of the most gratifying things about the job is hearing adults come up to them and say that Goosebumps or BSC inspired them to become writers, or editors, or librarians. The two series both suffer from parents not considering them ‘real’ books, so they think their kids aren’t readers even though they’re reading every day. Goosebumps, of course, has a movie out this week, so Stine discussed his having to do 25 interviews in one day to publicize it. He was also amused at people trying to find a moral lesson in Goosebumps – he thinks the basic moral is “Run!”.

Sometimes listening to fans can backfire – Stine kept hearing people ask if he would write a horror novel for adults, so he did – and it bombed. He also discussed the use of cell phones in modern horror making it far more difficult to isolate and panic people. “Who is the one calling me?” doesn’t work as well with caller ID. He was asked about the most scary Goosebumps, and he admitted it was probably the first, as he didn’t have the horror/humor down yet. Martin was asked what the best BSC books are, and she said the most serious ones usually. They also talked about controversial books – Stine had written a Fear Street book called Best Friend that ended with the bad guy winning, and the outrage was huge. Martin said it was a book where one cast member moves away – she had to have them move back as she got too many letters. We also got Stine saying his wife said he was too old to play himself in the movie, which was highly amusing. An excellent panel, and fans were pleased.

After that I attended the Looney Tunes panel, debuting an episode of the current show Wabbit!. Unlike previous efforts to update Looney Tunes that tried to change the formula, this seems to be basic cartoon shorts simply set in 2015, and I was more entertained than I expected, given how much of a purist I am. The animation is looker and occasionally has a Ren & Stimpy feel, and the voice acting is smooth, not trying to slavishly imitate Mel Blanc. There’s a new character called Squeaks who speaks in gibberish, there I think to be a younger sidekick to Bugs. I felt it was a good, solid update.

After that we saw one of the directors, Gary Hartle, and three of the voice actors; J.P. Karliak, Bob Bergen, and Jeff Bergman. I was pleased to see Gary mention that Bugs sometimes needed to be a “stinker”, and they are taking care not to make him too all-powerful or smug like later Chuck Jones Bugs could be. Bugs can also be a sore loser when he’s paired off against people more confident than he is. They also discussed how this new series went back to the basics they did in the 40s and 50s – they think of a premise and then come up with gags and pin them to a wall, as opposed to writing a full script. This allows the plot to be more modular and fluid. The goal is to entertain. They also have voice actors working together more often than they used to, so that they can play and build off of each other.

These aren’t your grandparent’s Looney Tunes; there’s also a desire to fill them out as characters. Bugs has different sides to him, as does Daffy Duck, who they’re deliberately trying to walk back to being Daffy here, as opposed to “Bitter, Jealous Duck”. QUA asked how they come up with stuff for the various characters to do – they said they come up with ideas and see who the best fit would be for them, casting the characters like actors. Speaking of which, Bergen said they still do have to audition, and come in with two monologues each to do AS their character. They also had highly amusing anecdotes about how they met Mel Blanc – they stalked him, essentially, and had to tell the audience multiple times DON’T DO THIS. All in all, I’m pleased with the hands Looney Tunes are in.

After that I went over to the Bookwalker booth, but I’ll talk about that in a separate post. And then I departed. NYCC this year was a fun experience for me, with a lot of panels I’d never really tried before. The sheer scope of the diversity track was amazing and thrilling, and I urge everyone to follow their advice: if you want to change comics, do it by buying the things you love. The manga and anime tracks were also good this year, and there was less of a sense of it being off to the side as there has been in past years. I hope that these posts have given you a taste of what you can expect at this event – just imagine me with 155,000 more people around me and you’ll get the gist.

NYCC 2015, Day 3

Saturday at NYCC was well-balanced between the manga industry panels I am actually here for and the diverse comic panels I’ve found fascinating all week. It began with Yen Press, who were in the smallest panel room of the con, so naturally it filled up 15 minutes before the start. They opened right off with new licenses. Saiteihen no Otoko is a Gangan Joker title about a loser guy who sees a new transfer student who is more than she seems. Yen is calling it Scumbag Loser, which given the cover seems entirely appropriate, and it’s in one big omnibus. The author may be best known for Gun x Clover.

Corpse Party: Blood Covered is a 10-volume series based on a visual novel that features a cast of kids getting brutally murdered, so I can see why Kurt at the panel said it was for Higurashi fans. I’d argue that it’s survival game fans who’d get the most out of it. It ran in Gangan Powered, then Gangan Joker. Space Dandy is based off of the anime, and runs in Young Gangan – it looks pretty servicey. Also in Young Gangan is Dimension W, an 8+ volume series that’s a cyberpunk alternate history where Tesla won. The author did King of Thorn and Cat Paradise. Lastly, Unhappy Go Lucky (just ‘Unhappy’ in Japan) is a Houbunsha title from Manga Time Kirara Forward, a sweet comedy about schoolkids trying to change their bad luck. It’s for the K-On! Crowd.

Yen On also had some new licenses. Psycome is better known as Psycho Love Comedy, and as a man falsely accused of murder get sent to a prison where all the girls are also murderers… and falling for him. This is from Enterbrain, and looks very, very silly. Overlord is also from Enterbrain, and is another in a line of ‘trapped in a game’ series. It’ 9+ volumes. They also picked up the manga, which is a Kadokawa title from Comp Ace. Lastly, The Boy and the Beast is a novelization of a movie by the creator of Summer Wars and Wolf Children. And they have a manga tie-in for that as well, from Kadokawa’s Shonen Ace.

Q&A discussed finding the right balance between properties when licensing, Kurt again promoting Yen On to the hilt, a discussion of digital rights and why some obvious series (SAO and Index novels) don ‘t have them – often it’s the author’s own choice. Emma was praised, and Kurt mentioned how difficult license rescues are. He also chided Index fans who want to be caught up all at once, which is simply impossible in today’s market. Translation was talked about, and how to make it readable while keeping the author’s style – I’ve discussed this with Index.

After is I went to see Kodansha, and was so excited to meet several of the editors and licensors that I left my notebook outside (later I was able to retrieve it. Yes, I write longhand at cons – it helps me remember better). So the Kodansha panel was on the tablet. The actual licenses were just two, but they were quite exciting. Spoof on Titan is a 4-koma parody that ran on Mangabox last year, and Kodansha has secured the print rights. I Am Space Dandy seems to be the Mangabox version as well, which Kodansha released last year in Japan.

After a rundown of previously announced titles that will be coming out next year, and the big news that the next Vinland Saga will have a 4-koma done by Faith Erin Hicks, they discussed their digital line, available on various platforms. They had partnered with Crunchyroll for a few big series that did not really justify print – we’re n ow going to see these in volume format, still digital only. This includes Fort of Apocalypse, As the Gods Will, Fuuka by my nemesis Seo Kouji, My Wife is Wagatsuma-san, and the cult favorite Space Brothers.

After this was the main event, as we had Noragami’s editor, Yohei Takami. (No, not the artist, he’s busy making the manga.) He discussed the origins of the title, and the concept art of a failed god in a tracksuit, which was actually created for something else. We saw the rough sketches of several pages, something very rarely shown off to casual readers – they were indeed very rough. The pencils were more of a finished product. I asked about how one breaks into editing and got a very fun answer about being first in the office and picking up the phone when an artist calls – allegedly how Attack on Titan’s editor got his gig!

After this I went to Prism Comics’ panel on queer autobiographies, which had, as you might expect, quite a diverse group – Ariel Schrag, L Nichols, Sina Grace, Morgan Boecher, Carlo Quispe, and A.K. Summers. They all had a wide variety of ways they fell into telling their stories as a comic – there’s no one clichéd way. L Nichols is a “Southern Baptist” raised queer, whose title Flocks describes budding realization of sexuality at church camp and Bible School into transitioning. Morgan also discussed coming out as trans to friends, and how the reaction was not as expected – his female friends felt devalued at first. It was mentioned that with the comics art it’s easy to show off bodies in transition.

Carlo Quispe’s comics are far more political, deliberately so – he thinks comics can help push a political message without making it obvious and can use the medium to avoid showing a specific gender or race. He wants to change the minds of those who disagree with him the most – an impressive goal. Summers has a comic called Pregnant Butch, whose plot matches its title – it’s her experiences as a butch lesbian who is now pregnant, and the question of whether that’s even possible for a butch. She had to decide what to put in – it’s all very well to write an autobiographical comic, but there are other people in your life who might not want to be in it. And she discussed that fact that, well, she looks like a pregnant Tintin, something which seems to amuse her greatly, particularly given the historical Tintin’s unfilled-in sexuality as a boy living a man’s life.

Ariel talked about some of the pitfalls of the genre – you can use pain to help you write comics, but it can detach you from real emotion and make you too obsessive. It may also not want to be something you do WHILE it happens – perspective is a wonderful thing. Sina Grace agreed, and said it wasn’t healthy to imagine your life as a story while it’s actually happening. The goal is to capture the moment, not relive it.

Q&A was broad. The nature of autobiography and comics was developed, and some noted the internal state of the characters being easier in comic form – indeed, sometimes it’s easier when the “you” you create is a caricature. This is also a hard type of book to sell – Pregnant Butch didn’t sell till it was put up as a webcomic, despite much trying beforehand. And Uranus, Carlos’ book, as from an artbook publisher who didn’t want to mention it was a comic! They were also asked about the recent success of Fun Home, and whether that might help others to break through. Lastly, Prism discussed their new anthology debuting at Wondercon, with over 40 contributors.

I had not seen last year’s Women in Geek Media, so was happy to get into the sequel panel. Alicia Grauso was the moderator, and said the panel was specific to women but also useful for anyone who wanted to break into geek media. Also there were Jodie Hauser, Katrina Hill, Jamie Broadnax, Sam Maggs, and Deb Aoki. The panel was filled wish advice for the aspiring geek. Promote yourself. Network. Use social media properly. Try to get in as a contributor to a site, then write articles and find your own voice.

Of course, this can be difficult, particularly in a Gamergate world. You need to recognize what’s an honest dissenting opinion and who’s just being a troll. And learn to listen to the honest disagreements with equanimity as well. You should be professional – never air your dirty laundry in public. On the other hand, you absolutely can be angry about the ongoing lack of diversity. Think about what the best use of your time is. I haven’t mentioned who said much in this recap, but that’s mostly as the whole group were all on the same page. Diversity does not have to equal mediocrity – it should strive for the best. Also, everyone hated Season 5 of Game of Thrones. Even the GoT wiki owner.

My last panel of the day was far more relaxed, and also offered free coffee. Coffee, Food and Comics turned out to be equally balanced between titles with food and artists discussing their own need for food/coffee during creation. They discussed favorite food titles, both Western (Starve, Lucy Kinsley, The Comic Book History of Beer) and manga (Oishinbo, Drops of God, Toriko). It can be hard to market a cookbook comic, though – cookbook publishers don’t want comics and vice versa. That said, there’s never been a better time to self-publish. Interest is at an all-time high. The panel continued in a relaxed state, which extended to the Q&A, discussing things like the recent retirement of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch mascot, which I only mention as it had the word cerealpomorphic.

The theme of today, and indeed the entire con, is this: if you want more than just white male superheroes, support people creating them with your money. That’s something everyone agreed on no matter what the panel. I suspect Sunday will tell me that as well.